For those who love to investigate the origin of words and phrases, there is a fine site on the Internet: www.word-detective.com
. Here and in his syndicated newspaper column, Evan Morris discusses many of the curious expressions we use daily, and he tells us what his research reveals about their origins.
Now, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill has published a small collection of his explanations, and it is very entertaining.
Evan Morris is the son of William Morris, who was the editor in chief of the New York publishing company Grosser & Dunlap; he also syndicated a column about words. Evan heard discussions of words from his earliest childhood, and this is one family interest that stuck. When his father retired from writing his column, Evan took it over.
Algonquin's collection "The Word Detective," ($17.95) begins with amok
and some 130 entries later ends with zarf
. Interspersed with the single entries are items such as "If You Can't Say Something Nice, Say it Nicely." This collection lists the euphemisms (sometimes very silly) we use all the time.
In the introduction Evan includes a thought we would do well to keep in mind when we mourn the loss of old words and shudder at some of the new ones:
"The evolution of words, in many ways, is an organic process akin to the evolution of animal and plant species. Words grow and prosper for a time, often spawning new words, but eventually they age and in many cases even become extinct."
Talk the Talk:
From an Oct. 10 article in The New York Times about a book about New York City's flop houses by David Isay, Stacy Abramson and Harvey Wang:
"The walls between the cubicles extended only part way to the ceiling, so each cubicle was topped with chicken wire to thwart residents called lush divers
from jumping from one room to another and robbing a possibly passed-out neighbor."Blizzard
- a weather word used by financial analysts to describe a rapid downturn in the stock market which "may `snowball' and perhaps, according to The New York Times `touch off waves of selling in Asia's smaller markets,' causing a 'landslide.'" Source: "Wall Street Witch Doctors" by William Saletan in the online magazine Slate. Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825), letter (1118 W. Main St., Richmond, Va. 23220), fax (358-1079) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org